Judge in Trump documents case rejects suggestions to step aside

Former President Donald J. Judge Eileen M. Trump to Oversee Trump’s Secret Documents Case Shortly after Cannon took the job in June 2023, two more experienced colleagues on the federal bench in Florida urged him to send it to another judge. Briefly about two-person conversations.

Judges who approached Judge Cannon – Chief Judge of the Southern District of Florida, Cecilia M. Each — including Altonaga — asked the top court to consider whether it would be better to let the case go to another case. Judge, said two.

But Mr. Judge Cannon, a Trump appointee, wanted to keep the case and rejected the jurors’ request. His work raised eyebrows because he had little investigative experience and had previously worked with Mr. He showed unusual support for Trump, helping him in the criminal investigation that led to his impeachment. Appellate Court Committee.

The unusual and previously undisclosed effort by Judge Cannon’s colleagues to persuade her to step aside adds another dimension to the growing criticism of how she will handle the case.

According to lawyers who practice there, it is common practice for federal judges in the Southern District of Florida to delegate some preliminary hearings to magistrates — in this instance, Judge Bruce E. Reinhardt. While he is her subordinate, Judge Reinhardt is an older and more experienced judge. In 2022, after Mr. Trump left office, Mr. who signed an FBI warrant to search Trump’s club and residence, Mar-a-Lago, in Florida.

Since then, Judge Cannon has been hostile to prosecutors, slow to deal with pretrial motions and indefinitely adjourning the trial, refusing to set a date for it to begin even though both are available. Case investigation And Security He had told her they could be ready to start this summer.

But Mr. Trump’s lawyers have urged him to delay any trial until after the election, and his handling of the case has almost ensured that they will succeed in that strategy. Mr. If Trump recaptures the White House, he could order the Justice Department to drop the case.

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As Judge Cannon’s handling of the case has come under intense scrutiny, his critics say he is in over his head, Mr. Trump might be in the tank — or both, they suggested.

Against that backdrop, word of initial efforts by colleagues on the bench to persuade her to step aside — and the significance of her decision not to — spread among other federal judges and people who knew them.

District Court Clerk Angela E. Neither Judge Cannon nor Judge Altonaga directly responded to requests for comment, including emails sent by Noble. Ms Noble later wrote in an email: “Our judges do not comment on pending cases.”

As new judges learn to perform their new roles, it is common to look to more experienced legal professionals for informal advice or guidance. As President of the District, Judge Altonaga plays a formal role in the administration of the federal judiciary in South Florida.

But ultimately, Judge Cannon was not subject to the authority of his district court elders. Like any Senate-confirmed, presidentially appointed judge, he has a lifetime term and independent standing, and is free to choose to ignore such advice.

Both men, who discussed efforts to persuade her to drop the case, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. Different federal judges have each said that, including Judge Altonaga in the Southern District of Florida.

No one has identified the second federal judge in Florida who approached Judge Cannon. One confirmed the attempt to sideline Judge Cannon, but the two judges did not detail the conversations they had with him. Another person provided additional details.

This person said every outing took place over the phone. The first judge who called Judge Cannon suggested to him that it would be better to have the case handled by a judge closer to the county’s busy courthouse in Miami. .

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The Miami courthouse has a secure facility that is allowed to hold highly confidential information that will be discussed at pretrial hearings and used as evidence in the case. Judge Cannon is the sole judge at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, a two-hour drive north of Miami. When she was assigned to the case, the courthouse in Fort Pierce did not have a secure facility.

Judge Cannon held the case that taxpayers were required to build a safe room — known as a Sensitive Compartment Information Facility, or SCIF.

After that initial argument failed to get Judge Cannon to step aside, the person said, Judge Altonaga made the call.

Chief Justice – Former President George W. Bush’s appointee — reportedly made the sharpest argument: Judge Cannon overseeing the trial was bad optics because of what happened during the criminal trial. Trump is accused of illegally possessing national security documents after leaving office and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them.

In August 2022, the FBI obtained a search warrant from Judge Reinhart and went to Mar-a-Lago to find Mr. Trump sought the remaining classified documents that he failed to turn over after receiving a subpoena for them.

Agents found thousands of government files held by Mr Trump that were supposed to have gone to the National Archives when he left office. More than 100 of the files retrieved by the FBI were marked classified, some of them at the most restricted level.

After searching, Mr. Trump filed suit against the government challenging the seizure of the items, claiming they were his personal property, and demanding that a special master be appointed to extract them. Instead of letting Judge Reinhart handle the case, as is normal practice, Judge Cannon chose to decide the matter.

In an ideological shock to legal experts, he barred investigators from accessing evidence and appointed a special editor, though he said that person would only make recommendations to him and make the final decisions.

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Judge Cannon’s decision was somewhat unusual because he intervened before any charges were filed — Mr. Trump was treated differently from the usual targets of search warrants based on his special status as a former president.

He ordered the special master to consider whether some of the seized files should be kept permanently under administrative privilege from investigators, a move widely viewed as dubious because it has never been successfully done in a criminal case.

Attorneys appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. In a reversal, a three-judge panel that included two Trump appointees reversed his order and ruled that he lacked the legal authority to intervene in the first place.

“The execution of a warrant at the home of a former president is indeed unusual — but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or gives judicial license to interfere in an ongoing investigation,” the panel wrote.

It added that the limits on when courts can intervene in criminal investigations “apply no matter who the government investigates”. “To carve out a special exception here would violate our nation’s fundamental principle that our law ‘applies to all without regard to numbers, wealth or status.'”

Mr. Trump’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court, but it declined to hear the case. In December 2022, Judge Cannon ruled against Mr. He dismissed Trump’s lawsuit.

Six months later, a grand jury in Miami indicted Mr. The indictment accused Trump of how he stored highly sensitive documents in a bathroom and on a stage at Mar-a-Lago and continued to direct his aides and lawyers to thwart the judge’s efforts. Department and National Archives to recover them.

Under the county’s standard procedures, according to its clerk, the new case went to a system that randomly assigns one of a handful of judges in the West Palm Beach division that includes Mar-a-Lago. Fort Pierce and Fort Lauderdale are one of two adjacent divisions.

It went to Judge Cannon.

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